First, let me get this out there right away, I think that doing your own audio (even though I am going to) is a huge time suck and waste of effort for most authors. You’d be far better off writing the next book.
But, there is something I have learned about myself through this whole self-publishing journey and that’s that I like to learn new things. If I ever get this to the point where I’ve learned everything and it’s just a matter of rinse and repeat, that will probably be the day I walk away.
Because I can tell myself stories in my head. I do it all the time. I have like five partial novels that rotate in my head these days with little bits getting added to them all the time. I don’t have to write to create those stories.
So, for me, I do this because it’s a challenge and I get to learn new things. And this year the new thing I’ve decided to learn is audio.
Now, I’ve dabbled in audio before. Back in 2013 I asked about it on Kboards and got some advice and bought a Blue Yeti microphone and set up my walk-in closet and recorded part of a short story. (And then got distracted by a six-month consulting project and didn’t come back to it for a year.)
That first recording? Too fast. Way too fast. I listened to it again after I’d hired about five narrators to do various projects for me and, yeah, it was…bad. Just too fast.
After that I did some video courses for Excel. And then a couple years after that I did some video courses for Affinity. And then I did a couple of my really short short stories as an audiobook.
And…Let’s just say I was still learning. There were mistakes made.
I can listen to those files on my computer speakers and be like, “Oh, that’s fine. It works well enough.” But put on fancy headphones and…mmm, things could be improved.
(And likely will once I iron out all the details on processing audio files which I’m about 80% on at this point. I can reprocess the audio files with what I know now and regenerate and upload the files. Of course, with video files they take the same amount of time to reprocess as they are long. So that’s 20+ hours of just reprocessing time? Not including the editing part? And most people don’t have fancy headphones to notice the issues? So it will probably happen, but not immediately.)
Anyway. What have I learned that I can pass on to someone foolish like me? (Note, some of the links below are affiliate links to Amazon but you can find these elsewhere. For example, I was going to buy on Sweetwater but they were out of one of the microphones I wanted and I have no patience.)
1. Buy some good over-the-ear headphones so you can really hear things. I bought AKG Acoustics k240 studio headphones and wow, what a difference those made in what I could hear. And they weren’t too spendy either.
But if you are going to do that, watch out for sinus issues. For me those headphones hit right at the jaw joint on my left ear and after a couple days of heavy use I needed an extra hot shower and some decongestant because it messed my ear up.
2. Recording environment is king. You can do a lot after the fact, but getting a clean space to record in up front will help so much. My videos and those short stories were recorded in an untreated space and I can hear that echo with the good headphones.
3. How you prep and enunciate and speak is also very important. Again, I found some solutions that can handle “mouth noise” and “clicks”, but not making them in the first place is even better. I still need to work on tricks in that area, like eating slices of tart green apples or chewing gum or a dash of apple cider vinegar in some water. But, yeah, the cleaner you can record the less time it’ll take to have a good finished file.
4. There are eight million ways to process a file after the fact. I dove deep on how to handle sibilance over the weekend and found a good half-dozen options for how to handle it. And I think I know four different ways to handle background noise at this point. The exact combination to use is probably a very personal one based on what software, microphone, and type of voice and recording issues someone has.
5. It’s time-consuming. I recorded one short story (about 5K words) yesterday. It took 45 minutes to record. It was 30 minutes after I edited out repeats and pauses and things like that. With all of the processing, editing, listen-back it was 3 hours to create that half hour.
With better recording technique and more faith in the final product (so that I didn’t do a full listen-back at the beginning and the end) I could probably drop that down at least an hour, but I won’t be there anytime soon.
6. In terms of processing the file. My first time I listened through to a file I wanted to clip out every little noise I heard, but that is going to waste a lot of time. Go through the file, clip out any of the big stuff you don’t want in the final, like long pauses to yell at your dog (or is that just me) or repeated takes on a specific line. Don’t try to fix every little noise. Run your effects/processing on the file next. And then, if you still have some issues, fix them then. But that processing, especially like de-clicking the file, will really help with a lot of that.
7. Fiction is obviously harder than non-fiction because of the number of voices involved and the emotion required. My non-fiction does have some personality to it, but it’s a whole different level when you’re trying to have a three-way conversation and make each character sound unique enough to be distinguishable.
8. Each person who does audio or voice over is going to have a certain sweet spot where they do better. I am not an announcer voice. I also don’t have some deep, rich voice that charms and soothes. That is simply not me.
So sometimes even if you can narrate something yourself, you may not be the best choice for it.
Right now I’m working on this because I have a nine-book series where the voice is first-person and the main character is very much like me, so I can get away with narrating that.
And if I get everything dialed in it will cost me my time instead of the $10K plus it would cost to pay for a narrator on that series.
My hope is that I’ll get this to the point where I can do it for commercials or that sort of thing. But if I get there it won’t be “I can do all audio”. It will be “I can do your middle-aged neighbor who recommends that you try this product.”
9. Finally, not a tip so much as an observation: I know when I’m writing fiction that there is emotion on the page, but it amazes me how much of that emotion surfaces when I’m reading something I wrote as a narrator instead of in my head.
Narration adds a level of nuance to my stories that floors me every single time I read a new fiction piece I wrote. It takes those stories up a level and really fleshes things out. It’s almost worth it for just that experience alone. (Almost.)
So, yeah. I’m sure I’ll come up with more later. But that’s a start.
Right now as I write this I decided that using a Scarlett Solo interface and Audio-Technica AT875R microphone worked best for my set-up. I tried a Rode NT1 and I couldn’t get a low enough noise floor with my current arrangement which involves a folding table, a closet, some creative use of curtain rods, and heavy moving blankets. I also had a Heil boom arm to mount the microphone on.
I may circle back to the Rode at some point and see if I can’t handle the noise issue with processing. It’s supposed to be a richer sound. But then I’ll have to deal more with plosives if I go that route, too.
Also, I started out in Audacity but right now I’m trialing Reaper and think I’ll go with it and some additional plug-ins, some of which are free, some of which aren’t. Not sure I need the plug-ins if I were better versed in Reaper (for example, I could use ReaFir for noise suppression), but for now I think the plug-ins work better for me.
We’ll see where I am on this in six months. Should be interesting for me if nothing else. (Although I so need to write the next fantasy novel! And some non-fiction that’s on deck! But hey, if I’m not enjoying my days, what’s the point, right? Sure, that’s the story…)